Scientists create the very first magnetic wormhole

Researchers created the very first magnetic wormhole in a laboratory. The object allows electromagnetic waves to propagate between two points in space through an invisible, undetectable tunnel.

a) The field of a magnetic source (right) appears as an isolated magnetic monopole when passing through the magnetostatic wormhole; the whole spherical device is magnetically undetectable. b) The wormhole is composed of (from left to right) an outer spherical ferromagnetic metasurface, a spherical superconducting layer, and an inner spirally wound ferromagnetic sheet (credit: Jordi Prat-Camps, Universitat Autonoma Barcelona, Nature).

a) The field of a magnetic source (right) appears as an isolated magnetic monopole when passing through the magnetostatic wormhole; the whole spherical device is magnetically undetectable. b) The wormhole is composed of (from left to right) an outer spherical ferromagnetic metasurface, a spherical superconducting layer, and an inner spirally wound ferromagnetic sheet (credit: Jordi Prat-Camps, Universitat Autonoma Barcelona, Nature).

Thanks to science-fiction TV series and movies, such as Stargate, Start Trek and – very recently – Interstellar many of us are somewhat familiar with the concept of gravitational wormholes – cosmic tunnels that would be able to connect directly two distant regions of the universe. As fascinating as they are, our present-day technology is not capable of creating gravitational wormholes as it would require huge amounts of gravitational energy, which we do not know (yet) how to generate.

A group of researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain) however, have designed and created experimentally the first magnetic wormhole – a tunnel that can transfer the magnetic field from one point to another, keeping it undetectable.  This is possible because, unlike gravitational fields, scientists have gotten pretty good at manipulating electromagnetic fields, for instance using so-called metamaterials (specifically engineered materials which possess unique properties not yet found in nature).

The group of researchers used indeed metamaterials and metasurfaces for the task and successfully built the first experimental 3D wormhole for magnetostatic fields. The wormhole – which takes inspiration from a theoretical proposal advanced in 2007 by Greenleaf et al. – allows the magnetic field from a source (e.g. a magnet) to appear at the other end of the wormhole as an isolated monopole. This result is already quite remarkable in itself as magnetic monopoles do not exist in nature, but the overall effect is even more interesting.

The magnetic field appears to travel from one point to another through a dimension that lies outside the conventional 3D space. The magnetic wormhole is a layered structure. It comprises a sphere with an external ferromagnetic layer and a second superconducting one beneath it; an additional ferromagnetic sheet is rolled into a cylinder and crosses the sphere from one end to the other. The result is a sphere which is magnetically undetectable – i.e. ‘magnetically invisible’ – to the exterior.

The magnetic wormhole is the analogous of a gravitational one: “It changes the topology of space, as if the inner region has been magnetically erased from space,” explains Àlvar Sánchez, the lead researcher of the study.

Beyond its clear scientific interest, the magnetic wormhole has potential practical applications. The technology could, for instance, improve magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) both by increasing the distance between patients and detector and allowing imaging of different part of the patient’s body simultaneously.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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